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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fuse 8 n’ Kate: The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey, ill. Gustaf Tenggren

It seems very odd to me that one of the most commercially successful children’s books to ever be published in the United States has an almost entirely obscure author to its name. The mystery of Janette Sebring Lowrey hangs over our latest episode of this podcast. Neither Kate nor I had ever read this book before, and yet it bragged back in 2001 of having sold nearly 15 million copies. The illustrator’s wife once joked that the artist was pleased that he’d given the Bible a “run for its money”. But is it actually any good? We consider The Poky Little Puppy on all his roly-poly glory.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, PlayerFM, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

Let’s take a nice long gaze at the author of this book. This is the image that Leonard Marcus managed to find and publish in his book Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way (older book jacket for that book seen below).

Just to give you a sense of what we’re dealing with here, I found that all copies of this book were gone from my library and so I had to settle with handing Kate this:

To cram as many Little Golden Book tales into one package as humanly possible, they had to change the design significantly. As a result, the first page of the Puppy’s story looks like this:

Which is all well and good, until you realize that the caterpillar here is now roughly the same size as the puppies. And it looks like it’s definitely gunning for the orange one.

As Kate says, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Frog & Toad and Tuesday, it’s that frogs are green and toads are brown.” We know toads. We have seen toads. And you, sir, are no toad.

I’m enough of a Looney Tunes graduate to appreciate the old written sign gag ala Wile E. Coyote. And I’m rather delighted by the notion that either the puppy’s mom or some human who owns the puppies is writing these signs, forgetting the simple fact that puppies can’t read.

Of course, of all the signs, this next one is my favorite. Let’s diagram this sentence a bit, shall we? Just break it down:

NO desserts EVER UNLESS puppies NEVER dig holes under this fence AGAIN (stresses my own). Holy moly.

By the way, how awesome is this image of Ursula Nordstrom (who I literally didn’t think had anything to do with this book)?

You could have a lot of fun reading the Gabriel Roth Slate article Why So Poky? The Scourge of Terrible Canonical Children’s Books. Seemed pertinent to our podcast, don’t you think?


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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. How about supervising your puppies so they won’t dig under the fence, sign-writer? THIS IS NOT SO HARD. BE A COMPETENT PET OWNER.

    (This is actually how we got our poodle. The neighbor who starved and neglected him claims that everybody on our block took turns “stealing” him, but in fact she lost him repeatedly due to her own careless negligence. If you’re going to leave your toy poodle alone outside in an ungated yard, looking like nobody loves him, that’s on you. I told her I’d bring her to the shelter if I found him in MY yard again, and I did. And then I picked him up from the shelter, and if she didn’t bother to go down there during the 4-day waiting period and pick him up herself, that’s not my fault either. Probably just as well she didn’t – at first, they thought he was my dog and they were talking about pressing charges. Man, I am never going to forgive that neighbor for what she did to this animal.)

  2. Myra Zarnowski says:

    I have always loved THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY, but as you suggest it is not for its literary qualities. I remember my father reading it to me and how he sounded. When I read it as an adult, I was much less impressed, yet I still keep a copy of it on my bookshelf. I can’t part with it. I guess this is evidence of the importance of reading aloud to promote love of books… the impact of our memories of reading.

  3. I would like to respond in as quiet and understated a way as I can to your, admittedly very funny, assault on The Poky Little Puppy. First, its popularity is definitely out of proportion to its quality. No doubt, some people purchase it only because they remember it from their childhood. The abridged version in the collected Golden Books makes the caterpillar look huge, but in the real book it has its own page, so let’s dismiss that.
    The mom is punitive, reflecting normal child rearing of the time. The same is true for Peter Rabbit. You obviously have to discuss that with kids when you read it. Any book which is not contemporary requires explaining how things were different in the past. This is a good thing!
    I believe that rice pudding has a distinct sugary cinnamon smell.
    Dogs can read in the imaginary world of books. Yes, I know you know that! I’m just pointing out that children get that dogs don’t normally read, and that is part of the appeal of letting them read in a book.
    The crazy grammar with double negatives is, again, part of the appeal, especially when reading the signs dramatically out loud to children.
    Lots of books of this era are extremely racist and sexist. Maybe the Poky Little Puppy should earn extra points for not being so.
    I really disliked the Slate article. Your podcast is funny; the article was not. It was snarky and dismissive, with an easy sense of superiority to people with nostalgia for books which their grandmothers read them. Does the author still have his grandmother? Did he ever have one? Is it bad to remember one’s grandmother or the books she read with nostalgia?
    One other interesting point about the early Golden Books, and other picture books of this era, is that they have way more text in proportion to pictures than any picture books would have today. I often wonder if children actually had the patience to listen to the entire book until they were older.
    I notice that you ignore the modern “sequels” written by different authors, and with good reason. They are not masterpieces. There is one, The Poky Little Puppy Comes to Sesame Street, which is part of its own genre, classic children’s book characters who visit contemporary books or other media.
    I get that it’s fun to gently mock outdated references and values in children’s books. The Golden Books are full of this, including several about mommies and daddies and their accepted roles. The Poky Little Puppy is much quirkier and even inconsistent. That’s why it is a good book.

  4. Oh, this is the family favorite!! Each time we welcome a new little member, they get this book. I was at BookExpo a few years ago and snagged a Poky Little Puppy tote bag!!! It went to my oldest niece at her baby shower for her first child – full of books, of course.

  5. My childhood favorite! Primarily for the yummy gorgeous illustrations, then the roly-poly refrain. And those puppies! Too cute with their chubby bodies. Fantastic illustrators of Little Golden Books like Tenggren, Garth Williams, Feodore Rojankovsky, and others inspired me to become an art director whose greatest pleasure has been working with illustrators.

  6. Ruh-roh! Better deep-six any plans to skewer The Saggy Baggy Elephant…

  7. Meanwhile, a double-take: Margaret? Annette? Mickey Mouse Club? Durned tootin’! Annette played a country girl originally spurned by the cool kids in her new town (Mary Wickes was the housekeeper,) and a meant-to be-corny song was a bit of a hit for her. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7sUb82zzUrg